Connecting With Characters

Casablanca2I’ve been sending out my android story for the past month. It’s a short novel (73K words) about a man who discovers he is an android, and what he does about that. The story is told from his point of view.

I searched out a list of 100 agents who claim to be interested in sci-fi, even though, as I say in my query letter, this is actually a literary exploration of human consciousness that just happens to involve an android. It’s presented as a character-based drama.

Usually I can count on a 33% reply rate (e.g., polite rejections). The other 67% don’t even bother to reply, which is their rejection. I expect that. What’s disturbing is I’ve already received the dreaded comment, “I couldn’t connect with the characters.” I’ve had that comment on several other manuscripts I’ve sent out in the past.

There’s something wrong with my writing. Why can’t people, or at least agents, “connect” with my characters? I don’t think it’s because in this case, the main character is an android. I paint him as a sympathetic, slightly eccentric engineer, not as R2D2. People should relate to him easily.

I’m at a loss. Should I give him a cat? Should his mother die? Should I make him cry? He does go through a divorce, is that not good enough? Maybe I should have him rescue a cat stranded in a tree. What does it take for the humans to “connect” to a character?

I understand that I am not a sentimental person and I don’t write with sentimentality, nor do I enjoy reading sentimental stories. But my characters are not sentimental, nor bloodless robots, just ordinary people facing the difficulties of life. Maybe that’s the problem?

I wonder if agents are looking for a one-legged immigrant who arrived in New York penniless and suffered severe alienation and discrimination until finding love. Is that the secret? I have to confess I am unable to “connect” to 95% of the characters I read about in literary fiction and that seems to be no impediment to them.

So I’ve signed up for a “master class” (an intense critical review) at an upcoming conference, on “developing character.” I will demand that the instructor tell me what special ingredient I am missing.

Until then, “Live long and prosper.”

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